Alchemist's Gift

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Morning’s Light

The morning sun shone through the leaded lattice window and the shadow it cast lay like a net over Roland and Rosanera. Roland stirred first. He untwined himself from Rosanera hoping not to awaken her. She opened her eyes and reached for his hand.

“Cara mia, what a wonderful night.” She had a dreamy look on her face. “Where are you going, my love?”

Roland lay back down. “Nowhere. I was going to open the window.”

“Stay with me here. It is so nice and warm.” Rosanera kissed Roland on the cheek and rested her head on his shoulder.

It was nice and warm and cozy under the covers. Roland settled in. “Tell me something. Why is it you are not someone’s queen? You are beautiful and very smart and strong.”

Rosanera took the compliment with self-assured pride. “Do you remember I said I was like a prisoner here?”

“Yes, I do. Why cannot you just go back to Italy?”

“You do not understand. I have nothing, no dowry. The duke stole that from me after my mother died. He took my maidenhead when I was barely thirteen years old. I have nothing to offer a nobleman, no property, no money, no title, not even my virtue. The plague took my entire family, except for Luis, and I am nothing here. If, and only if, I outlive Gunter, then by rights I will be duchess. That is, if he does not marry and have an heir.”

Although outwardly calm and relaxed, once again Rosanera found herself in that angry and impotent place she had inhabited for so many years. Any little bit of happiness and warmth she gleaned from those around her would never be more than a mocking echo of the love she lived so long without. Even as she lay in Roland’s arms, she bitterly reflected on that sick and sullied time she had spent as Gunter’s veiled lover and cringed. She hated herself for being that silly little fool who imagined their relationship was based on love. At one point, she thought their weekly liaisons would last forever and that someday Gunter would take her as a wife. Her cold and hurtful past hardened her heart and soul. She reminded herself never to be blinded by hope or be foolish enough to trust very much in another’s words. And here she was, so desperate that she lay with this stranger just on his word of gold? She would not repeat the past and decided then and there that Roland would be no more than a means to an end.

“You just cannot leave?” he asked again.

“And go where? The convent?” she continued with a trace of hopelessness in her voice. “I have no one and no one to help me.” She moved closer and glimpsed the subtle flash of concern on his brow. “I have nowhere to go. You see, I am a prisoner in a beautiful jail, surrounded by beautiful things, surrounded by my countrymen. I want for nothing, except hope and maybe someone like you. You will help me, will you not?”

Roland kissed Rosanera’s forehead, and then her lips, her left cheek, and then her right cheek. She slowly warmed to his touch and returned his kisses. Her hands found their way to his sex and she teased him to a point of readiness. Then she stopped and pulled her hands away.

Roland caught his breath. Rosanera had both of her arms on top of the blanket and pushed them down at her sides, making access impossible for Roland to return the titillating favor. He figured that was her way of playing, and he abandoned what he thought was an invitation.

“So why does he keep you here?”

Rosanera stared up at the ceiling as she spoke. “Believe it or not, he needs me. I have an uncle and a granduncle--if they are still alive--who are both cardinals. They are very close to Pope Leo. Through their influence, the Pope supports Gunter and this unending war. But only to a point.”

“Which is?”

“If Gunter der Grausam loses, the Pope will lose. When I am duchess, I will make peace. The Church has a much better chance to convince the northern princes under the spell of the reformist to return to the Church and have their excommunications lifted. I know it can be done through peaceful means.”

Roland was unsure why, but he did not share the same opinion. He held her a little bit tighter. “I suppose that is possible.”

Rosanera wiggled free and propped herself up on her elbow. She looked Roland in the eyes. “Cara mia, understand this: those who help me now will be rewarded when I am duchess. I will have a special reward for you.” She kissed Roland’s lips. “Your apartment will be right next to mine,” she kissed him twice, “you will have your own servants and horses,” she kissed him three times, “and maybe even vice chancellor.”

Roland was surprised by such a generous offer and took it at face value. “You would want me to live in the castle and let me help you rule?” The responsibilities and possibilities gave him pause but also excited him. Roland gladly accepted Rosanera’s offer.

“Yes, the gold you promised would do that.” Rosanera made little swirls on Roland’s chest with her fingertips. “Cara mia, it is very important that you bring the gold here as quickly as possible.” Rosanera leaned in and kissed Roland’s chest.

“This morning you must leave so you can keep your promise.” Rosanera kissed Roland again. “Our people are counting on you. I am counting on you.” Rosanera punctuated her request with a lingering kiss. Roland took her kiss as an invitation. He kissed her. She pulled back. He put his hand behind her head. She put her hand up in front of her face. Roland stopped.

“Cara mia, such a stallion you are. There will be enough time to share in each other’s delights. But now you must keep your promise. Yes?”

Her teasing made Roland amorous. His body was ready. “Are you sure you want me to go right now?” He already knew the answer would be ‘yes’ and he should have been more disappointed, but he wasn‘t. Both settled on him kissing the honey expanse between her chin and breasts.

“Yes, my love that is my wish.” With both hands, she pushed Roland away onto his back and slipped out from under the covers. She stood naked next to the bed just out of reach. Rosanera went to the armoire and found a yellow silk robe. She put it on, returned to the bed, picked up Roland’s britches and shirt and tossed them to him. She sat at her desk, found a leaf of paper in the drawer, dipped the quill in the silver ink pot and began to write.

By the time Roland tied the ribbons on his shoes and stood up, Rosanera had finished her note.

“Do you remember where the stables are?”

Roland did not expect such a question. “Of course, we walked to the stables together. It was just last week. Remember, you went riding, and I stayed behind.”

Rosanera frowned as if she couldn’t conjure up the memory. “Oh yes, I suppose we did. Give this to the coachman. He will take you where you must go. Now hurry.”

Rosanera stood and held the note out to Roland. He approached her for a goodbye kiss. He extended his arms, closed his eyes and leaned in. She took his head in her hands, pulled him closer and gave him a peck on the forehead.

Roland opened his eyes. She held the note in front of his face. “Hurry for me now.” She gave Roland the same shooing she did Clotilda the night before. “Make haste, my love.” Rosanera returned to her desk and sat.

Roland did not move. Rosanera cocked her head to one side and gave him an expectant look. “Yes, my love?”

Roland was at a loss. He checked his ego when he thought about being able to help, about being Rosanera’s paramour and the more-than-ample rewards she promised him. He banished whatever childish feeling he had had an instant before, and smiled. “I will do my best.” He turned and left the room.

Rosanera picked up her hand mirror; she arranged a few curly strands of her dark hair. She spoke in a laughing whisper. “Dear Cicero, you are so right. All is vanity. All is vanity.”

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